Sunday, 18 February 2007

The End of the Playoff Run?

Kevin Lowe and Garth Snow swung a deal early Sunday morning that sent puck-moving defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, pictured laying out a Carolina Hurricane on the left, from the Oilers to the New York Islanders in exchange for Russian prospect defenceman Denis Grebeshkov. I'm not too sure about this rumour, but I had heard that Edmonton was looking for a puck-moving defenseman. And since Bergeron was the closest thing Edmonton had to a puck-moving defenseman at that point, it's a good deal to swap him for a guy who has appeared in a grand total of 33 NHL games including none this season. Excuse my sarcasm.

I see only two options for Kevin Lowe here, and they both involve the salary cap.

Option One: he is making cap space available by trading a guy who can't log a pile of ice time versus bigger forwards in the Western Conference. Bergeron stands in at 5'10" and 197 lbs, small by first-line defensemen standards. By making this cap space available, Lowe is going to make a run at Eric Brewer in St. Louis with the hopes of resigning him to a long-term deal, or make a deal with the Flyers for Joni Pitkanen. I see the Brewer deal as the better possibility since Brewer will be a free agent after this season.

Option Two: Lowe is signalling that he is preparing for next season. He will need to make a deal at the draft or sign a first-line defenseman when July 1st rolls around. In order to do that, he sheds himself of $969,000 worth of salary for next season that can be put towards signing a defenseman who can carry the puck and log the minutes that Bergeron could not.

I believe the second option is the reality. Why? Based on what Kevin Lowe had to say, it sounds like he is planning for the future today, not playing for tomorrow.

"We see the upside in the player we're acquiring," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said. "We see this as a long-term upgrade."

Long-term upgrade, eh? Bergeron had spent his entire NHL career in Edmonton. He had 33 goals and 55 assists for 88 points in 189 games. Grebeshkov has no goals and six assists over 33 games with the Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders. Half of his points came in 2005-06 when he suited up for 21 games with the Islanders.

Kevin Lowe feels that Bergeron's 0.47 points-per-game average is better than Grebeshkov's 0.18 points-per-game average? Bergeron is 26, while Grebeshkov is 23. Bergeron was signed as an undrafted free agent while Grebeshkov was drafted 18th overall in 2002 by the Los Angeles Kings.

There will be nay-sayers who talk about how many giveaways that Bergeron committed. I agree that he turned the puck over quite a bit. However, as young as he is, he will still make mistakes. Phil Housley did it, Paul Coffey did it, Brian Leetch did it. Giveaways are part of the game, and you learn to limit them. Having confidence in the kid will only help that part of his game.

I see more upside in the undrafted kid than I do in the Russian lad playing in the Russian SuperLeague. Garth Snow got himself an excellent offensive defenseman in Bergeron. Kevin Lowe is preparing for the draft. I'm calling it now: the Oilers end up in 10th place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of St. Louis and five back of Colorado in 9th spot.

Where's the upside in that?

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